Mel Shields: Tommy Emmanuel to make northern Nevada debut

Published: Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 10TICKET

"How did all these people get in my room?"

Tommy Emmanuel quoted the song from I Blame Coco in response to the fact he'll occupy a legendary dressing room at John Ascuaga's Nugget when he performs in the Celebrity Showroom on Thursday.

A mention of some of the entertainers who have played there prompts his quick question.

In fact, Emmanuel seems a bit more interested in Nevada casino entertainment than in his own appearance.

"I got to know Les Paul really well in his last years, and he told me stories of Nevada where Nat King Cole, who was the biggest thing in New York, for instance, had to enter the casino showrooms where he played through the kitchen door."

True enough. Reno, too, had such policies well into the 1960s.

"In Australia, too, sadly," said Emmanuel of his home nation, where he began to establish his legendary guitar style. "I saw this series of photographs once where the English people were in a front section of a theater, the white but non-English people in the middle, the natives further back. As the photos got closer to modern day, the white classes mixed, and then all classes mixed."

Emmanuel grew up during that civil rights progress. Born in 1955, he was part of a traveling family band by age 6, playing rhythm guitar.

By his teen years, he had established himself in Sydney, where he played drums in the band Goldrush. Then he moved to lead guitarist with the Southern Star Band. Next he was with Dragon.

"But I live in Nashville now, where I started living in 1980. I came to Nashville to meet Chet Atkins, and we became family and recorded together. Besides, Nashville is an affordable place to live for musicians."

The 1997 Emmanuel- Atkins collaboration, "The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World," was the last recorded album of guitar legend Atkins, who called Emmanuel "one of the greatest guitar players I have ever seen."

One of Emmanuel's first vivid memories comes from when he was 7, hearing Atkins on the radio.

He was fascinated with the Atkins style, playing bass with the thumb and melodies with the first two or three fingers. It became Emmanuel's style as well, although he's developed a vast repertoire of techniques over the years allowing him access to pretty much all styles of music – rock, jazz, country, blues. He's also known as a fine storyteller.

"I very rarely, if ever, go on stage with a set list. A minute before I go on, I decide what to play first, and from then on it's total freedom. It's a bit of a ride musically and emotionally. I'm not there to impress other musicians and all that rubbish. I can go from the Beatles (he wrote 'Papa George' and 'Hope Street' for George Harrison) to 'Over the Rainbow.' I feel the audience. I love improv."

The range of locations Emmanuel has played is as broad as his range of styles. Saloons, nightclubs, the Sydney Opera House, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and command performances for the likes of the Australian prime minister and the king of Thailand.

"That was an open-air event. The king plays saxophone and is a bit of a jazzer. I played solo and then joined kind of a superband at the end.

"He'd wave and applaud and smile from ear to ear. It was so evident how much he is loved by the people."

Right now, Emmanuel is working on a project with Martin Taylor and starting to write a new solo project. He's also "looking forward to playing in Reno for the first time, especially on that stage."

Solo. Improv. No backup.

"Backup band? Backup band? I don't need no stinkin' backup band."

Emmanuel is to appear as part of Reno's Artown series of winter events. (8 p.m. Thursday; $27; janugget.com or (800) 648-1177).

Out and about

One precise decade spans the hits between two attractions this weekend. Tonight Cache Creek in Brooks has MC Hammer, whose hit "U Can't Touch This" was recorded in 1990 (8 p.m.; $55, $65, $75; cachecreek.com); and on Sunday, Thunder Valley in Lincoln offers the Manhattans, whose hit "Shining Star" came exactly a decade earlier (8 p.m.; $25, $39 and $40; thundervalleyresort.com).


CASINO GUIDE

Boomtown, Reno – Events Center: Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats, Pat Travers, Jan. 26; Al Stewart, Feb. 23.

(800) 648-3790.

Cal Neva Resort – Frank Sinatra Showroom: Kottonmouth Kings, Saturday; Roach Gigz, Thursday. (800) 233-5551.

Carson Valley Inn – Valley Ballroom: Bobby Hendricks Drifters, next Friday. Cabaret Lounge: Decoy, today-Saturday; Dale Poune, Sunday-Wednesday; Jo Mama, Thursday; Chili Sauce, next Friday-Jan. 26; George Pickard, Jan. 27-30; the McBride Brothers, Jan. 31-Feb. 21. (775) 782-9711.

Eldorado, Reno – Showroom: "Magique," Tuesdays-Sundays, Tuesday-April 14; "Menopause the Musical," Tuesdays-Sundays, April 19-July 14. (800) 648-5966.

Harrah's Lake Tahoe – South Shore Room: Greg Allman, Saturday; Foghat, Jan. 26; Ben Folds Five, Feb. 2. (800) 427-7247.

Harrah's Reno – Sammy's Showroom: The Magic of Eli Kerr, Fridays-Saturdays, through Feb. 23. The Stage @ the Zone: Tragically White, today-Saturday; Journey Revisited, next Friday-Jan. 26; Dani Page Band, Feb. 1-2; Steel Breeze, Feb. 8-9. (800) 427-7247.

Horizon, Lake Tahoe – Illusion Fusion starring Alex Ramon, Thursdays-Tuesdays. (775) 588-6211.

MontBleu Resort, Lake Tahoe – MontBleu Theatre: Taboo (Black Eyed Peas), Feb. 8.; George Benson, Feb. 17; Jo Koy, Feb. 23. (888) 829-7630.

Silver Legacy, Reno – Grand Exposition Hall: Jay Leno, next Friday; Styx, Feb. 1; Lewis Black, Feb. 8; Jackson Browne, Feb. 17. (800) 687-8733.

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